When it comes to reproductive rights in this country, we dodged a bullet Tuesday. It’s bad enough that many states and their legislators will continue to press for increasingly restrictive laws governing women’s reproductive choices, but the idea that we very nearly elected a president who supported the claim that an anti-choice stance “affirm[s] the dignity of women” is Halloween-style scary – all the more terrifying for being so completely absurd.
So maybe it’s unsurprising that one of the major factors in Obama’s favor has been the consistent support of women voters. As of just a few days ago, Gallup Polls were showing a gap of almost twenty percentage points between male and female registered voters. Exit polls suggest a slightly smaller but still significant disparity, with 55% of women voters favoring Obama over Romney.
At the same time, even among women who identify as pro-choice, some persist in voting for socially-conservative Republican candidates. In an article posted earlier this morning, Melinda Hennenberger of the Washington Post cited several particularly interesting exit interviews with just this type of voter. The trend, as Hennenberger put it, is that “Romney’s supporters…trusted him to govern because they didn’t believe everything he’d been selling them as a candidate,” including his platform on abortion. One woman, a retired adjunct college professor, said of Romney’s stance on abortion that it’s “not that it doesn’t bother me,” but that “sometimes you just have to make choices and compromises.” In other words, even among pro-choice voters, other issues sometimes take precedence at the polls.
Fair enough. What is significant is which of these voters feel comfortable making that compromise. Even under the most restrictive laws regulating women’s reproductive rights, well-educated, well-resourced women have always found ways to access the care and services they need. In places where abortion procedures are illegal or unsafe, as in Ireland or Mexico, it is not uncommon for the women who can afford the trip to cross international boundaries in pursuit of care. State policies restricting women’s access to abortion services may intend to reduce the number of abortions that take place across the board, but their implementation disproportionately limits access to safe reproductive care for poor and low-income women whose options are most limited.
Ultimately, having the right to make decisions about our own bodies is not the same thing as being able to exercise that right. It’s a relief to consider that Obama’s election has at least temporarily stalled the national trend toward legislative restrictions on women’s reproductive care. But as long as state- and local-level barriers to such care remain, Democrats will have their work cut out for them. This is no place for compromise.